California's Gov. Brown vetoes 3-foot passing law

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A years-long battle in California to enact a law requiring that motorists give bicycle riders 3 feet of clearance died Friday when Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed SB 910.

In his veto message, Brown appeared to support the 3-foot buffer but objected to another provision that gave motorists the option to slow to 15 mph to pass instead.

The California Highway Patrol, Caltrans, and AAA all opposed the bill, which received thousands of letters of support in recent weeks by bicyclists and bicycle industry leaders.

19 states

The veto makes Brown, a Democrat, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, an unlikely odd couple as the only two governors to reject 3-foot passing legislation in their respective states.

Currently, 19 states have laws on the books that require motorists give bicyclists a 3-foot gap when passing.

Veto message

In his veto message, posted at the governor's website, Brown said that he “wholeheartedly” supports the goal of increased bicycle safety. He continues:

“This bill changes the longstanding law for how motor vehicles should pass a bicycle traveling in the same direction. Current law requires drivers to pass at a safe distance; this bill would specify that the distance must be at least 3 feet or at a speed not exceeding 15 mph.

“This bill offers some needed and clear improvements to the law such as specifying a minimum buffer of 3 feet. However, Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol have raised legitimate concerns about other provisions such as the 15 mph requirement. On streets with speed limits or 35 or 40 mph, slowing to 15 mph to pass a bicycle could cause rear end collisions. On other roads, a bicycle may travel at or near 15mph creating a long line of cars behind the cyclist.”

“I encourage the author, proponents, and opponents to send me a bill next year that solves these problems.”


The bill was co-sponsored by the California Bicycle Coalition and the City of Los Angeles and submitted by Senator Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach. A copy of the final bill can be found here – SB 910.

Jim Brown reacted to the veto at CalBike's website:

“Frankly, we’re baffled by this statement. How can the Governor support a
three-foot buffer and simultaneously oppose a requirement that
motorists slow down until they can provide a three-foot buffer?! We
offered him positive examples of other states that have enacted these
laws without any of the problems imagined by Caltrans and the CHP.”

“… The Governor’s veto doesn’t make the hazards associated with unsafe
passing go away. Drivers will continue guessing how much clearance to
give bicyclists when passing and those who get it wrong will continue
injuring and killing bicyclists. Until the Governor appreciates the need
to make real changes to existing law, more bicyclists will continue to
die from drivers hitting them from behind than from any other cause.”

“…we've seen how this bill has awakened the sleeping giant of California's bicycling community on behalf of safer conditions on our roads. This issue isn't going away and neither are we!”

The Coalition had recently disputed the claims about the law causing rear-end collisions.

Traffic deaths

Bicycle safety is of paramount importance in California. Many factors combine to make it ideal for bicycling; at the same time it follows only Florida in the number of traffic deaths of bicyclists (99) in 2009, the last year for which statistics are available.

More than 1,500 letters of support were delivered to the governor's office by the California Bicycle Coalition. Included were messages from execs at Oakley, Shimano and other companies in the outdoor activity industry.

The League of American Bicyclists and bicycle advocates in Minnesota also voiced support of the bill in recent days as the specter of a “whispering campaign” against the bill by the CHP was raised.

This is the closest a 3-foot passing bill has come to becoming law in California. Previous attempts failed to receive support in the legislature. SB 910 was passed on Sept. 8 after several amendments.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.bikingbis.com/2011/10/08/californias-gov-brown-vetoes-3-foot-passing-law/

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